Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Liberal Fundamentalism

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Last weekend I found out about a used book sale in a nearby town that was coming to a close. It had been going on for three days and by time I found out about it, it was almost over. I jumped in the van (with two of my lovely children in tow) and headed there promptly, not ever wanting to miss a good used book sale. My back was really bothering me when I left home but since books are one of my greatest passions, I pushed through the pain thinking that the benefit would far outweigh the discomfort.

When I finally arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though I had never heard of it, the organization sponsoring the sale does this on an annual basis. I'm not sure how long they've been doing it but one thing is for sure, they knew exactly what they were doing and they had the largest stock of used books in one place that I've ever seen. I was like a kid in a candy store. In fact, the books were so cheap, that I was like a rich kid in a candy store with so many options that I hardly knew where to start. Time was not on my side, however, because my wife and children had made plans for the early afternoon and it was already almost lunch time. My family would have never forgiven me if I had blown them off and done what I wanted to do: rent a U-haul and tell them that I would take all the religion and philosophy books they had. I mean, they had more books in that genre than I've ever seen in one place!

Unfortunately, my back pain would not cooperate; this was definitely a case of the spirit being willing but the flesh was weak! The more I tried to concentrate on finding something of value, the more impatient I became because I was hurting. Next year, things will be different! I've already got it marked on my calendar with reminders scheduled to begin blowing the whistle 2 weeks in advance. I am serious about my books! 

Thankfully, I did manage to lay my hands on a few volumes that were of particular interest to me. When I went to pay for them, I was even more pleasantly surprised to find out that since it was the last day of the sale and I had come right before closing, they were selling everything at half price. So, I walked away with about 10 books for less than 10 bucks. While I was disappointed that I wasn't able to look at more of their stock because I lacked the time and was hurting so bad, I was nonetheless happy about the decisions I'd made. 

While driving home, however, I began to really think about how I had selected my books. As I said, there were so many to choose from and I blazed through them looking for favorite authors and certain titles, not wasting too much time in any one particular location. As I thought about some of the books I had passed over, I was reminded of something Tripp Fuller, of Homebrewed Christianity, had said in a podcast (Sex, Salvation, Scripture & the Slippery Slope: Parts 1 & 2) between himself and Rachel Held Evans. They were kind of discussing the conservative/liberal paradigm in Christianity and Tripp stated that there was something called "liberal fundamentalism." What? Surely not!

Now, I have to admit that I immediately disliked the inference. Fundamentalism is something I've tried to escape. To me, it embodies everything that is incompatible with the Christian faith: intolerance, closed mindedness, self-righteousness, bigotry, arrogance, discrimination, legalism, you name it. In my journey to be free from these fundamentalist defects, I've kind of naturally gravitated towards liberalism; or, for a more contemporary way of putting it, I've become more progressive in my religious thinking. As such, I'd like to think that I've laid aside allot of my previous prejudices and have become more tolerant and embracing of divergent viewpoints and ideas. I like to think of myself as enlightened and free from those negative influences that almost drove me away from God years ago. 

As I thought of some of the books I could have purchased and chose not too, however, I could not get this incessant little title/designation out of my mind: liberal fundamentalism... I think I've stopped liking Tripp over it actually; after all, he's a Baptist, so I am entitled to dislike him, right? God doesn't even like the Baptist, does he? I jest!

Obviously, I was searching for books that interested me and I wasn't obligated to throw one in the mix that didn't necessarily ring my bell. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. But, in retrospect, this little experience has helped me understand what Tripp was saying and ashamedly, I have to admit that I think I've fallen prey to fundamentalism once again. Because as much as I would like to relegate my behavior and attitude to a single experience during a used book sale, I have to acknowledge that my actions and thinking here are very fundamental to how I view religion--and even God these days.   

My propensity towards fundamentalism is so evident by how I selected some authors while so flippantly discarding others, based solely upon whether or not I thought the author was contemporary or progressive enough. If I knew the author to have some conservative leanings, I would quickly discard them without giving them a second thought. And, I am ashamed to say it, but this was my sole criterion. In so doing, I was showing my own ignorance and willingness to tolerate discrimination in myself, all the while completely disdaining it in others. In the process, I realize that in many respects, I've been building the exact same walls of separation that I've criticized others for. It makes me think of that menacing little statement in the book of Galatians:"...if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor." (2:18; NRSV)

I just assumed that I was rather insulated from having a closed mind, being liberal and all. Some how along the way, I began to postulate that liberalism was the very antidote to intolerance. Obviously, this is not the case; being progressive or liberal minded does not automatically translate into tolerance or being more open-minded. In fact, there are some areas where I am more closed minded and intolerant than many of my conservative counterparts. It hurts to make this admission, but it is nonetheless true. 

This has been a stark admission for me. I've found that I have built many of the same walls that I thought I had destroyed in my enlightenment. I'm not exactly sure that I have not become worse, because I have cut myself off from a huge portion of religious people, being unwilling or incapable of receiving anything of value from them, simply because I deem them to be too rigid. I know that I would feel uncomfortable worshiping with these people, just as they would be cautious around me. Notice that I designate them as these people, not sisters and brothers in Christ who happen to see things differently than I do. It's a subtle distinction, but an insidious one.

In the end, there is no doubt that I am going to have to fully address and change this in my life. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me, I am grateful that God has opened my eyes to this. I do not want to be cut off from any of my siblings in the faith. I don't want to miss something of value simply because I am too concentrated on the packaging or label.

Paul deals with this very thing while writing to the Roman church about the act of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols and observing certain days above others. (ch. 14). Essentially, Paul is telling us not to construct walls of separation because of our thinking on non-essential issues: whether or not we approve of this or that. 

Binary thinking can be dangerous, regardless of its position on a particular continuum. Our "either/or" mentalities can shut people out, hurt them, and hurt ourselves because we are allowing division and walls between ourselves that God doesn't want there. In fact, the cross stands in direct opposition to such thinking. Our faith is designed to bridge the gap between us and God as well as between conservatives and liberals, those who eat meat and those who do not, etc etc. 

I don't want to continue the same prejudices and intolerance that I once knew. I want to be open to receive and fellowship with all of God's people, regardless of whether or not I agree with them on everything. I wonder how many books and authors I arrogantly discarded who might have broadened my understanding of God and deepened my faith? I do not want to be a fundamentalist anymore, regardless of the variety!


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